Short Hill Intervals

Short hill intervals are the most common type of hill training used by runners. These are effective for the development of muscular strength, running efficiency, stride length, cadence, and both anaerobic and aerobic endurance.

A typical short hill interval training session would involve running repetitions of between 30-90 seconds duration up a moderate (4-6% gradient) or slightly steeper gradient (>7%). This is normally followed by an active recovery jog back down the hill, before repeating a set number of times. The intensity, and training focus, can be altered by adjusting the intensity of the hill reps, or by adjusting the length of the recovery interval.

The training benefit of short hills

Whilst short hills are beneficial for strength development. They place slightly less emphasis on strength, power and speed development when compared with hill sprints. However, unlike with hill sprints these place a greater emphasis on the development of the key energy systems used when running middle and long-distance events (both the anaerobic ‘Lactate’ system and aerobic energy systems).

Short hills are also useful for the development of stride length and running cadence. Here there is another difference between hill sprints and short hills. With hill sprints it’s all about pushing the upper (maximal) limits of stride length and cadence. Whereas with short hills the training benefit comes through an improved ability to sustain a fast running cadence and stride length. Whilst the stride length itself is generally not longer during hill running (due to the vertical aspect), we actually generate more power per stride. As such this is beneficial for the development of stride length.

How Short hills differ from Hill Sprints

Unlike hill sprints the intensity is submaximal – hill sprints are all about maximal effort. With short hills, the intensity varies depending on the purpose of the session, the length of the hill, and recovery period. It may be anywhere from 800m intensity to 5k running intensity. The key to remember here is that we’re talking about intensity rather than pace. We’re not trying to match the speed we run on flat terrain, but rather the intensity.

Different types of Short hills

Clearly there’s a big difference between running a hill interval of 30seconds and 90seconds duration. At the same time running a hill interval at 800m intensity is very different to running it at 5k intensity. As short hills cover a relatively wide range of distances and intensities, the training purpose and benefit can vary greatly. In this way the intensity, length and recovery period can all be manipulated to significantly alter the training benefit. Here it’s useful to consider the primary energy systems being used. In this way we can break short hills down into:

  1. Short hills with a both a strong aerobic and anaerobic component.
  2. Short hills with a greater aerobic component.

Short hill repetitions that benefit both aerobic and anaerobic endurance

To provide a strong training benefit for both aerobic and anaerobic energy systems, the intensity really needs to be a minimum of 1500m intensity – at 1500m intensity anaerobic energy provides approximately 20% of total energy. The important thing here is we’re looking to match the equivalent intensity of running on flat terrain, rather than trying to match that pace.

Example short hill sessions for aerobic and anaerobic endurance include:

  • 10-12 x 30secs hills at 800m intensity, easy jog down recovery.
  • 8-10 x 45secs hills at 1500m intensity, easy jog recovery.
  • 5-6 x 60secs hills at 1500m intensity, easy jog recovery.

Short hill repetitions that primarily target aerobic endurance

The following sessions provide a much greater training benefit to the aerobic energy systems. The hill intervals are run at close to VO2max intensity so they help to improve our ability to absorb, transport and use oxygen. At the same time these sessions help to improve strength, muscular endurance, fatigue resistance of slow and fast twitch muscle fibres. And whilst anaerobic metabolism isn’t the primary energy source, blood lactate levels still increase, so we improve our ability to tolerate and clear increased acidity.

Example short hill sessions for aerobic endurance include:

  • 20 x 30secs at 3k/5k intensity, steady (e.g. marathon pace) jog down recovery – can be broken into sets e.g. 4 x (5 x 30secs at 3k intensity, steady jog down recovery), 3-5minutes easy jogging between sets.
  • 12 x 60secs at 3k intensity, easy/steady jog down recovery
  • 8-10 x 90secs at 3k intensity, easy/steady jog down recovery.

Short hill intervals summary

  • Short hill intervals involve running short intervals of 30-90seconds duration, up a moderate or moderately-steep slope.
  • The intensity of these intervals would typically be run at between 800m and 5000m intensity.
  • Short hill workouts help to develop muscle, strength power and efficiency. But to a lesser extent than hill sprints.
  • Short hills provide a strong training stimulus for developing running cadence and stride length. Whereas hill sprints develop maximal cadence and stride length, short hills are useful for developing our ability to sustain a fast cadence and long stride.
  • Short hills can be used to improve both anaerobic and aerobic endurance.
  • The extent to which energy system is developed mainly comes down to the intensity of the intervals, and length of recovery. As such, the contribution of anaerobic and aerobic energy systems can be altered by altering the intensity of hill interval.
  • As well as adjusting interval intensity, we can reduce the length of recovery, or increase recovery intensity. This increases the average intensity of the session. A shorter recovery can be used to make the session more aerobic. A longer recovery period, allows a greater intensity during the hill interval.

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